- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2015

A U.S.-backed coalition is “on the road” to winning the fight against Islamic State terrorists who reached new heights of barbarism last week, Secretary of State John F. Kerry declared Sunday, a rosy outlook rebutted by Kurdish leaders close to the conflict and Republican critics who say U.S. leadership is sorely lacking in several corners of the globe.

Mr. Kerry said the U.S.-led coalition, working with Arab partners, had taken back wide swaths of territory while eliminating top Islamic State commanders who had menaced a cross-section of Iraq and Syria, leading him to believe they are winning.

“I absolutely do,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And I think the evidence is not in my saying it, but it’s in the facts of what is happening.”

But Kurds leading the ground combat have said there is no clear strategy to rout the extremists, and U.S. lawmakers from both parties said they could be doing more to buttress their allies without putting American troops on the ground.

The disconnect underscores the challenges facing the administration as it navigates real-life battles abroad and political ones at home.

Jihadist-inspired violence from Paris to Sydney, and last week’s brutal immolation of a Jordanian pilot taken hostage by the Islamic State, have fueled fears over the tangible and philosophical threats of radical Islam. Most recently, the Islamic State said an American hostage, 26-year-old Kayla Mueller, was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, although officials suspect the group is lying.

Amid the turmoil, the parties in Washington are pointing fingers at each other.

Funding for the Department of Homeland Security is set to run dry Feb. 27 — the victim of a stalemate over President Obama’s executive amnesty for certain illegal immigrants — as members of both parties warn about the growing threat of homegrown terrorism.

“If people in Congress want to have that debate about immigration reform, let’s have that debate, but don’t tie that to funding public safety at Homeland Security for the American people,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told CNN Sunday. “We need a fully funded department right now.”

While some Republicans worry they’re picking the wrong fight, hard-liners say DHS can keep the country safe during a partial shutdown. Still others say the administration hasn’t set clear goals.

“They won’t even define the enemy for what it is, and that’s radical Islamist extremism,” Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, told “Face the Nation” on CBS.

Pivoting to Ukraine’s conflict, Republican senators told the administration to arm the Kiev government, which is battling Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

As attempts at a truce falter, Mr. Kerry would not divulge what items would be provided to Ukrainian loyalists.

“But I have no doubt that additional assistance — of economic kind and other kinds — will be going to Ukraine,” he said. “And we do so understanding that there is no military solution. The solution is a political, diplomatic one.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and one of Congress’ foremost hawks, signaled Sunday that diplomacy may not be enough, and fellow Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas spoke like a presidential contender in TV interviews from Munich.

“The problem is, right now, the Obama-Clinton-Kerry foreign policy has been consistently wrong. It’s been wrong on [the Islamic State]. It’s been wrong on Russia. It’s been wrong on Iran,” Mr. Cruz said, throwing former secretary of state and presumptive 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton into the mix.

“And when it comes to ISIS, our policy of leading from behind, we’ve seen essentially photo op foreign policy, where we drop a bomb here or a missile there,” Mr. Cruz said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

He said the U.S. needs to arm Kurdish peshmerga fighters on the front lines, reasoning that they’re ready-and-willing allies.

Mr. Kerry said the administration already has done just that.

“The peshmerga have been particularly brave and courageous,” he said. “We have supplied them with an enormous amount of ammunition, weapons [and] other things. And others are supplying them — our allies.”

The battle against the Islamic State has to be waged by the Iraqi army in the end, although they’re not prepared to fight just yet, according to Mr. Kerry.

“We have said, since the beginning, this is a long-term operation, not a short-term one,” he said. “But we believe everything, including the governing process in Iraq itself, is moving in the right direction.”

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